It looks like the overwhelming success of the White Stripes has gotten everyone seeing double. Jack and Meg long ago transcended the confines of cult heroics and quite literally become household names. Shit, even my parents think they’re cool. But the White Stripes are making a lot of money, and now every label wants to get a horse in the race. If garage is the new grunge, two is the new four. What makes sorting through this army of twosomes so confusing is that every band has its own criteria for coolness. Just slightly adjusted from the successful candy-striped model, these traits range from a penchant for Delta blues to a mysterious personal relationship. We’ve decided to give you a leg up on the newest batch of duos that seem to be flooding in from every direction. We give you the SHITS (Symbol of Hip Indie Twosome Status), a comprehensive rating system to help you understand what differentiates the duos based on their most basic facts.
The Black Keys
No two-piece on the chart better exhibits a keener sense of opportunistic carpe diem than the Black Keys. Based on a notion that would have been ludicrous in a pre-White Stripes world, the Black Keys are two white-boy twentysomethings from Akron, Ohio, who have used thrift-store chic and a whole lot of Mel Bay blues riffs to open a floodgate of critical accolades for their blues authenticity. As Auerbach lays down repackaged Stevie Ray Vaughan-isms, Carney flails over the kit with a spastic (often arrhythmic) mania that inspires a constant murmur of “he’s so into it.” But how could they not be? According to the band’s bio, the pair see themselves as young men hell-bent on “… sweating bullets in the middle of the night, drinking lightning from a corn liquor bottle … [and] kicking out a blues rock rumpus in search of salvation.” It wasn’t only the Akron chapter of Corn Liquor Producers Local 542 which took notice; after a short six months and an EP released on minuscule indie Alive Records, every music journo from Rolling Stone to MOJO got on their knees for the band’s highly anticipated full-length debut. After beating off major labels with a stick, the duo released the aptly titled The Big Up on the illustrious Fat Possum Records, a label known for resurrecting the careers of nearly forgotten blues greats like Hasil Adkins, Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside. But in the day and age where image is everything, there is also an aesthetics question: Beard-and-bravado guitarist/growler Dan Auerbach is a dead ringer for Delta Force-era Chuck Norris and skinsman Patrick Carney is an Ichabod Crane clone.
Hipsters with an eye on the British press have known about the Kills since about five minutes after the band’s buzz-heavy inception. But while the beefeaters have loved them from the get-go, the rest of us seem a little slow on the uptake. Here in the States, their suspiciously sexy hype machine seems to be just revving up. The duo takes a brazen approach to the inherent confines of the two-piece setup by embracing a bold, sans-drum lineup, which, to their credit, distinguishes them from our dear Jack and Meg. But, the million-dollar question … does it sound good? Perhaps that’s best answered by an audience member at one of their New York showcases who quipped that “a band without a drummer is like a blow job without the tongue.” Blow jobs or no, the spicy and undefined status of the couple and an unparalleled (yet delightfully disinterested) fashion sense has brought them to the foreground of highbrow hipster culture. The band’s pedigree doesn’t exactly match their garage-neuvo aesthetic. Before this dynamic duo was twiddling with Casio drum gadgets and manipulating samples to create what NME calls “erotically sleazy ... runaway train blues,” guitarist/singer Jamie Hince (current stage name: Hotel) was kicking around with London art house unknowns Scarfo. Sexpot singer Allison Mosshart (current stage name: VV) was doing time in the frighteningly unhip Florida hardcore scene screaming along to emo-pop outfit Discount. Yikes! Regardless of the Kills’ past blundering and questionable sincerity, audiences abroad have eagerly accepted their auspiciously well-timed musical facelift and gobbled up their debut full-length, Keep On Your Mean Side. Before they celebrated their two-year anniversary as a band Hotel and VV were jet-setting to Japanese press junkets(!?!) and snagging photo ops in the British tabloids next to Posh Spice and Robbie Williams.
Mr. Airplane Man
Before you fork out the dough to see the eye-catching female duo that exists under the moniker of Mr. Airplane Man, brace yourself. You may just witness the band blatantly disregarding one of the commandments of rock ’n’ roll: Thou shalt not commit a straight-faced cover of the Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” To add insult to injury, they play it quiet. If a Detroit band did that Iggy himself would lead the public stoning. Boston Phoenix writer Ted Drozdowski beams that singer/guitarist Margaret Garrett “shouts her blues in the flat-footed style that’s echoed through the hills below Memphis longer than buckshot” and drummer Tara McManus plays “like a plow mule … [with] a comfortable gait by years of muscling through sun-baked cotton fields.” Apparently, somebody stoned Drozdowski with thesauruses. Granted, the Bennigan’s crowd might recognize that their skill-less three-chord ditties are somehow related to the obscenely diluted populist idea of “blues,” but these two Boston girls would make for some delicate fare if a time machine dropped them off in a Mississippi juke joint. Anyone who has heard a single strain of Howlin’ Wolf (who penned the song from which the girls got their band name) would find the application of the “b” word about as unlikely as a sun-baked cotton field in Beantown. They get an an “E” for effort (and maybe a “P” for predictability) for recording with notable local producer Jim Diamond (Von Bondies, Soledad Brothers, etc.) and releasing their records with Sympathy for the Record Industry (the White Stripes). But unfortunately, if soul were dynamite they couldn’t blow their noses.
Record-store assholes in New York City saw their stars align with our Danish duo, the Raveonettes. The band was an instant amalgamation of every up-to-the-minute update of the much-ballyhooed “new rock revolution,” initiated by the Hives and the White Stripes. Their Scandinavian roots and sexualized (yet delightfully ambiguous) boy/girl relationship bring to mind recent record-industry home runs. But the Raveonettes took the shtick formulas one dangerous step further. Their debut EP release, Whip it On, was issued on Sony (insert cash register sound bite) and each of the eight songs on the record was written with a strict set of rules. All the tunes are in the key of B-flat minor; no more than three chords are allowed, each song has to be less than three minutes long, and there are no high hat or ride cymbals. Oh, yeah ... and they all sound ex-fucking-actly the same. Guitarist/vocalist Sune Rose Wagner and bass player/vocalist Shanon Foo coo in unison with picture-perfect ennui over a handful of dime-store garage and surf licks. The only variation in the songs at all comes in their choice of tempo, which oscillates between “kind of fast” and “kind of slow.” Even the comic-book titles like “Attack of the Ghost Riders” and “Veronica Fever” aren’t enough to distinguish one track from the next; by the end, the disc is a maelstrom of blasé minor-key riffing. Foo described it modestly as music “for the new generation ... [with] a lot of distortion ... and melody with really good songs and music.” Apparently the new generation has never heard ... I don’t know ... a band called the Beatles?Nate Cavalieri raves about music for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org